Research Areas

Research activities within the School are driven by UCD’s Research Strategy which focuses on key research areas:

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The aim of this research is to develop a better understanding of the molecular biology of animal systems and to translate this into new technologies and production systems to improve the quality of the food produced, the efficiency of its production and the competitiveness of the systems of food production with due regard to environmental stewardship and welfare of the animals. There is also an active research programme in Equine Science.

The main areas of research addressed include:

  • Molecular and nutritional regulation of fat and muscle deposition to increase efficiency, organoleptic quality and health attributes of meat
  • Understanding basic biochemical regulation of fertile gametes in food producing animals to improve reproductive efficiency
  • Identification of specific biomarkers that control key biological processes that will lead to improved animal welfare, product quality, nutritious content of food and improved consumer health
  • Feed evaluation and optimisation of nutritional management of farm animals to improve their efficiency
  • Equine genomics and exercise physiology
  • Development of improved animal breeding systems

The aim of this research is to analyse existing strategies and develop new strategies at a national and international level to improve competitiveness and profitability of food production processes. In addition it aims to advance the economic management and performance of the food chain in a manner that is environmentally sustainable and responsive to consumers’ and society’s needs.

The main areas of research addressed include:

  • Analysis of the performance of farming systems in terms of profitability, technical efficiency and environmental impact
  • Evaluation of the effects of developments in Agriculture and Food Policies and WTO on economic performance of agriculture and food production and marketing
  • Quantification, analysis and comparison of economic performances of alternative structures, strategies and business systems for food processing, distribution and marketing
  • Analysis of the structure, conduct and performance of the international food chain
  • Advancement of understanding of food consumers’ product and service needs and buying behaviour

Environmental and energy concerns and issues of food security are major global issues that the School addresses as part of its research portfolio.

Agriculture as the primary food producer is both a major consumer and stewart of environmental resources. Rapidly developing economies are increasing their requirements for animal proteins while at the same time the livestock sector is included in those industries associated with increasing greenhouse gas emissions and loss of biodiversity. Diversification of some agricultural production from food to biofuels is seen as important for the development of the knowledge based bio-economy, but can also lead to increases in the cost of basic foodstuffs.

Increasingly, the Ecosystem Health concept whereby the health of the environment, plants, animals and humans are seen as interdependent, is gaining currency. The following disciplines from across the School contribute to this theme.

The aim of our agri-environmental research is to understand interactions at the interface of Agriculture and the wider Environment. In undertaking such research, we aim to better understand how natural biotic and abiotic processes can by harnessed in the development of sustainable farming systems and land use practice. Effective management of our wider rural environment requires the integration and application of knowledge concerning fundamental biological and ecological processes at the ecosystem level. This is especially so in intensively managed systems of natural resource use including agriculture and forestry, but is equally true for the effective management of the ‘semi-natural’ ecosystems that have been created by older, more traditional forms of land management, including traditional agricultural systems. Our systems-based research strategically focuses on environments of national importance from both economic and wider ecological and aesthetic landscape perspectives including farmland, woodlands, wetlands and peatlands.

An essential feature of our system-based studies is the assessment of ongoing negative environmental impacts, and the application of fundamental ecological knowledge and derivation of information essential for the formulation of improved environmental policy to ensure sustainable resource use. Within studied ecosystems, important interactions include both natural and anthropogenic influences, including climate change and the relationships between land management practices, such as nutrient and pest and disease management, and wider environmental quality issues affecting natural resources (water, soil and air), biodiversity, landscape and ecosystem integrity. Current and/or recently completed large-scale projects specifically include:

Ag-Biota (biodiversity in grass-based Irish agriculture – ERDTI),
AE-Footprint (evaluation methodology for EU agri-environmental policy – EU/FP6)
Agri-Baseline (baseline for evaluation of the impact of farming on biodiversity – DAFF),
Bogland (sustainable peatlands management – ERTDI),
CréBeo (sustainable soil management – ERDTI).

Our vibrant, multidisciplinary, Food and Health team, spans the entire food chain from plant/animal science to food science to human health and consumer behaviour.

The cumulative strength of the team combined with our research infrastructure is impressive with respect to delivering our ambitious strategic research goals. We aim to develop a comprehensive research program that considers all aspects of food from 'farm to fork' and to the ultimate health of individual consumers.

The main areas of research addressed include:

  • Investigation of diet-genome interaction and the role of human genetic variation in the metabolism of dietary substances
  • Exploration of the relationship between diet, lifestyle and health with a view to enhancing public health
  • Development of ethical sustainable, food production and novel processing systems that enhance the quality of foods and satisfy consumer needs
  • Ensuring the security and safety of the food chain
  • Development of new ingredient technologies, functional ingredients and nutraceuticals for use in consumer foods

UCD Forest Research covers a wide range of areas, from forest nursery practices to the non-market benefits of forestry. The research can be divided into basic research, focussing on a better understanding of the biological, physiological and ecological processes that underpin the growth and development of trees and forests, and applied research where this understanding is combined with sociological, economic, mathematical, and computer science knowledge to develop new procedures and methodologies to improve the contributions of forests to society.

Many of our current research projects are focussing on developing solutions to problems associated with changes in the economic, environmental and social context in which forestry operates. Examples of such changes are the introduction of Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) as the national standard, the move from state to private afforestation, the increased emphasis on broadleaf forestry and on the use of alternative silvicultural systems, the changing demands Irish society places on forest products and services, the changing attitudes of urban and rural people towards forestry, and climate change and the role of forests in terms of mitigation combined with a need for adaptation. Furthermore, the expansion and ownership diversification of the forest estate also requires more sophisticated inventory, planning and management systems.

Current research aims to:

Understand dormancy mechanisms and develop pretreatments to break dormancy of forest seeds and maximise germination in the nursery
Examine the impacts of cultural practices on the morphological and physiological quality of important tree species
Determine the effect of the amount and method of nitrogen fertilisation on nutrient uptake, soil leaching dynamics and seedling quality in pedunculate oak
Evaluate the impact of forest thinning practices on the physiological responses of underplanted tree species
Determine the key factors affecting the establishment and growth of tree species in mixtures
Develop dynamic yield models for conifers, broadleaves and mixtures of tree species
Develop single tree volume models and stem profile models
Develop an inventory protocol and decision support system for the management of privately-owned forests
Evaluate the use of terrestrial laser scanning for multi-resource forest inventories
Assess the use of remote sensing techniques for forest delineation, inventory and change detection
Establish a national resource of field trials and a database for forest research and demonstration (http://natforex.ie)
Assess and model the carbon sequestration potential of forest ecosystems, including above and below ground components and wood decomposition (www.ucd.ie/carbifor)
Develop a GIS-based multi-objective decision support system for the optimal management of forests on sensitive sites
Evaluate the susceptibility of forest tree species to climate change impacts, especially drought
Develop a geospatial model for the forecasting of private sector timber supply
Evaluate the impact of agro-forestry systems on farmers’ livelihoods, biodiversity and carbon pools
Explore the factors influencing a farmer’s decision to afforest land and identify strategies to increase the level of farm afforestation
Estimate the value of the non-market goods associated with different “types” of afforestation programmes
Expand the knowledge base on low impact silvicultural systems (LISS, CCF) in Ireland.

In forestry, current research and innovation activities include projects on: the impact of human-made and natural disturbances on the greenhouse gas balances in Irish forests (CarbiFor, CForRep); the development and integration of alternative forest management models into landscape level forest management planning in Europe (INTEGRAL, ALTERFOR); the integration of national inventories and remote sensing platforms into Europe-wide forest information systems (DIABOLO); the mobilisation of forest owners and collaborative forest management and ensurance of sustainable forest functions (SIMWOOD); tree improvement to increase the growth and quality of forest trees grown in Ireland (FORGEN); maintenance of a national database for forest research and demonstration (NATFOREX).